With the partial federal government shutdown entering its twenty-second day on Saturday - breaking a record set by a shutdown in late 1995 to become the longest in US history - President Trump called in to Judge Jeanine Pirro's show on Saturday night and revived his threat to declare a national emergency if Democrats don't accede to his demands to fund at least part of his proposed border wall.
The shutdown began last month after Dems refused to support including $5.7 billion as part of a funding package for a handful of government agencies. They then reportedly rejected several compromise offers floated by the White House as Speaker Nancy Pelosi denounced the wall as "immoral" and insisted that Dems wouldn't vote to support a single dollar of funding for one of Trump's core campaign promises.
Since then, Trump has wavered on whether he should call a national emergency to order the Army Corps. of Engineers to build the wall. According to one widely reported plan under consideration, Trump could tap funding allocated for disaster-relief efforts to build an even larger segment of the wall than what he had asked Congress. Though on Friday, Trump said "I would rather not" declare a national emergency, saying he'd rather see Congress act on an issue that the president has framed as a "humanitarian crisis."
Instead of departing for Mar-a-Lago for the holidays, Trump opted to spend the last weeks of December in the White House waiting for Democrats to come to the table and cut a table (a period that was distinguished by a stream of furious presidential tweets). During his interview with Pirro, Trump affirmed what anybody who has been paying attention to his twitter feed likely suspected: He has not left the White House since the shutdown began.
"I’ve been here virtually every night," Trump said.
He then insisted that he has "the absolute right" to call a national emergency if the Democrats don't "return from their vacation and act" (a reference to a trip to Puerto Rico taken by 30 Democrats where they're meeting with lobbyists and seeing an exclusive production of "Hamilton".
"I have the absolute right to call a national emergency," Trump reiterated, adding "I’d rather see the Democrats come back from their vacation and act." (The president may have been referring to reports that some 30 Democrats were in Puerto Rico this weekend, meeting with lobbyists and attending a special performance of the Broadway play "Hamilton.")
But the president said he wanted to give Democrats the chance to "act responsibly".
"I want to give them the chance to see if they can act responsibly...It’s a humanitarian crisis and its national security."
With the shutdown on the cusp of entering its fourth week, some 800,000 federal workers on Friday received blank pay stubs, ratcheting up the political pressure on the administration to do something to end the shutdown, amounting to "bad politics" for the Dems (though opinion polling shows a majority of voters blame Trump for the shutdown after he said during a contentious meeting with Pelosi and Schumer that he would happily take responsibility for it).
"They think its politics, I think its bad politics. This country wants to have protection at the border," Trump told Fox News.
Trump also took a few minutes to respond to a pair of reports published in the New York Times and Washington Post alleging that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence operation into whether Trump was a Russian asset, and that Trump had concealed transcripts of his conversations with President Putin from other members of his administration (likely for fear that his comments would be leaked without context).
A furious Trump blasted the NYT article as "the most insulting thing" ever written about him (admittedly a pretty high bar).
"I think it’s the most insulting thing I have ever been asked," Trump said. "I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written and if you read the article you see that they found absolutely nothing."
Trump said he would happily disclose details from his conversations with Putin, adding that "there was absolutely no conclusion."
"I would. I don’t care," Trump told Pirro, about disclosing details of those talks. "I had a conversation like every president does. You sit with the president of various countries. I do it with all countries."
"Here’s the bottom line," the president said. "There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no anything. … It’s a witch hunt."
Of course, any interview with Trump so close to the 2020 Iowa caucuses wouldn't be complete without a few stray jabs at the incipient Democratic competition. Asked by the crop of challengers so far, Trump said he's "not worried."
And while VP Joe Biden appears to be leading the field, Trump described him as "weak".
"I’m not worried. So far I love the competition. I love what I see," he said.
"He’s weak," Trump said of Biden.
Watch the interview below: